The environmental activist and entrepreneur shares powerful lessons she's learned from launching her sustainable tableware company.

I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, arguably one of the most naturally beautiful places on the planet. My family wasn’t overly outdoorsy, but we had lots of access to the outdoors. Nature was everywhere in our city — mountains, ocean, and forests were our constant backdrop. In high school, I had the opportunity to join a one-year program where half of the school year was spent outdoors — rock climbing, sea kayaking, and even sleeping in snow caves. I studied the environment in college, and studied it some more in graduate school. Sustainable design — specifically green building — became my first career. Through my early work, I was able to leverage the power of design to address environmental issues. That stayed with me, but my environmental activism took me to consumer packaged goods, where I could create even more positive impact.

 1. Change perspective.

My career began with an exterior view. I worked in the early days of the green building boom in New York City, collaborating with architects, contractors, and planners. From the outside, we constructed some of the greenest buildings in the city. Yet, those super sustainable skyscrapers were filled with single-use consumer plastic on the inside. The interior — consumer products along with corresponding consumer behaviors — didn’t match the exterior. I wanted to do something about that disconnect.

No one was producing sustainable tableware at that time. The market was wide open, and there was room to advocate for plants over plastic by getting eco-friendly alternatives on retail shelves. In 2012, we launched Repurpose. In our first seven years, Repurpose saved 8,638 metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and 3,531,805 pounds of waste from ending up in landfills. I’m proud of that.

Gropper with her two daughters

2. Innovate, and innovate again.

Our goal at Repurpose has always been to offer the best-performing products using the greenest solutions available. The mission doesn’t change, but the solutions do.

Repurpose products replace plastics with a variety of plant fibers, such as corn, beet, cassava, and bamboo, which are a sustainable alternative to Styrofoam, paper, and other petroleum-based products. We knew we wanted our products to tick all the boxes: BPI certified, BPA-free, chlorine-free, made with vegetable-based inks, and recyclable packaging. Moreover, plant-based products have to perform. These days, it’s a long list of claims and consumer expectations.

There have absolutely been moments when neither policy, science nor technology were where we wanted them to be. We wished better solutions were available — and available sooner — several times. We’ve had to be patient when what we were really feeling was extremely impatient. Then, we had to choose our moments to be productively impatient. The key has been actively pursuing innovation and constantly seeking out fresh solutions, while navigating the nail-biting moments. Identifying the right product development partners helps. Collaborate and keep challenging each other.

3. Save the world. And have fun doing it.  

I join many working parents on this planet. And, as an environmental activist and CEO of an activist brand, this is a planet I’m working hard to save for my two daughters. The demands of being a full-time working parent are real, as is the threat of climate change. It can be downright daunting.

We offer two product lines — compostables and reusables — to help make it easy to do good for the planet. Everyone deserves sustainable, non-toxic, plant-based products. The earth does, too. If you reuse, great — Repurpose is with you, with a new reusable product line. Or, if you opt for single-use, we’ve got an eco-friendly alternative: 100 percent compostable plates, cups, cutlery, bags and straws. They break down in an industrial composter in 180 days and return to the soil in a closed-loop system.

The designer in me still feels strongly that eco-friendly can be beautifully designed. Vibrant colors, modular design, an upbeat look and feel, and above all, convenient and accessible options, are important. Let’s make saving the world fun, and instill hope as we go.

Lauren Gropper

Lauren Gropper is the founder and CEO of Repurpose, the leader in plant-based tableware.

An eco-entrepreneur and green architecture pioneer with degrees from McGill and Pratt, Gropper began her career in sustainable design, consulting for international clients such as Bank of America and Fairmont Hotel.

Her early success led to a surprising career in Hollywood, appearing in green-focused TV shows and working as a consultant to the industry with customers like Discovery Networks.

While her projects were recognized for cutting-edge sustainable design, the businesses themselves went on as usual, trashing the planet with plastic, Styrofoam, and other petroleum-based products. Gropper had an aha moment on-set, confronted with the waste generated by craft services. She founded Repurpose to bring conscious consumption to consumer packaged goods.

Today, Gropper leads Repurpose on its quest to change the world one low-impact cup, plate and fork at a time. As both climate change and sustainable technology accelerate, Gropper challenges her team to think years ahead about what make and use today. For Gropper, it’s still about design: What products can she create to extend a disposable lifespan and reduce waste?

“At Repurpose, we took a bold idea and went with it,” says Gropper. “We disrupted a lagging industry and created a whole new category. Good design can make better choices not only easy but desirable. Changing the everyday is the key to the existential threat of climate change. I proudly tell my kids we’re making small choices today for big impact tomorrow.”